By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen
For the next week my home is on the island of Gran Canaria, the host of the Basketball World Cup’s Group D. I will post notes, stories, and insight from my time at the games in Las Palmas. If you want more information about anything specific please hit me up on Twitter, I’ll be on there all week.
It’s All About Gogi
“It’s all about Gogi and 3pts. So far so good” - Coach Luka Bassin (Union Olimipija Assistant Coach and Slovenian Youth National Team Coach)
Goran “Gogi” Dragic is not only the key player to Slovenia but to the whole of Group B. He’s the far and away best player in Gran Canaria and probably the only player that can change the course of a game himself. Players like Aron Baynes, Joe Ingles, Jonas Maciulis, Jonas Valanciunas, Gustavo Ayon, Jorge Gutierrez, and Zoran Dragic are high level players that are some of the best in the group but are not in the class of Gogi.
It’s the craftiness, pace, and elusiveness that Gogi plays with that makes him so special. The ball is his yo-yo and he can do whatever he wants with it. Once he snakes by you on the drive the options become endless. He has incredible vision once he attacks the paint and with the way the Slovenian players move around the perimeter looking for space to shoot, it makes for a deadly combination. His biggest challenge will be against Jorge Gutierrez who is a strong, big point guard that has the physical advantage on Gogi. Either way, I wouldn’t put it past the Slovenian leader to take Jorge to school too. With Manu Ginobili out of this tournament, the eldest Dragic is the closest thing we have to the Argentinian magician.
The New Lithuanian Point Guard(s)
I asked LKL writer and all-around Lithuanian basketball expert Simonas “Simas” Baranauskas for his thoughts on the Lithuanian point guard situation after Mantas Kalnietis dislocated his collarbone and was ruled out of the World Cup. Here were his thoughts before the first game and mine after watching the Lithuania’s first game yesterday.
Sarunas Vasiliauskas is a product of Sabonis Basketball School and came through the ranks of Žalgiris pyramid system. He spent a couple of seasons (2009-11) in Žalgiris, but couldn’t really crack the rotation. Spent the last season in Poland, playing for the Lithuanian NT assistant coach Darius Maskoliūnas. He’s really quick, has good ball-handling and playmaking skills, solid spot-up shooter, but has troubles on the defensive end due to his slight build. Doesn’t have previous top level international experience, so he’ll make a rookie mistake or too, but overall I actually kind of like him. He can play pick-and-roll, has a nice floater and is a creative passer inside.
After Kalnietis got injured, they picked up the new Lietuvos Rytas guard Adas Juškevičius as a back-up. Vasiliauskas and Juškevičius went to Sabonis Basketball School together (both born the same year), played for Žalgiris youth teams together. Vasiliauskas would always run the point, while Juškevičius would play off the ball more. For some reason, people want to believe Juškevičius is a point guard, but he’s a pretty clear-cut shooting guard with OK ball-handling skills, but little-to-no feel for the game and playmaking instincts. We’ll see Ronaldas Seibutis and even Marty Pocius handling the ball at times, with Simas Jasaitis playing minutes at shooting guard. - Simas
After watching both Vasiliauskas and Juškevičius in Lithuania’s first game versus Mexico I tend to agree with Simas. Even though Vasiliauskas started the game, he only played 10 minutes while Juškevičius played 20 minutes. Both were fairly passive on offense but the difference was that Juškevičius is two inches taller and just has the ability to play slightly more physically on defense. Juškevičius also seemed like the better shooter.
Even though both these players will probably bring the ball up the floor on offense, they will not be the main offensive ignitors and their main responsibilities will be to just start the offense with the first pass and hit an outside shot when the ball is swung to them. Juškevičius showed he could do that better in the first game but because Vasiliauskas is still the purer point guard, he’ll still probably still start the next games. But as Simas says, the main problem is on defense and the point guards don’t stop coming in this group with Matthew Dellavedova and Goran Dragic still on the schedule
The Angolan System
I was impressed with the way Angola played yesterday. Hard, direct cuts, good screens, a very crisply run half court offense, and every player looked to score when open. This is a team of young and old players but the majority of the most reliable upon players have been with the national team for a long time. They know how to run this system like the back of their hand. Here are some things I gleaned from it.
No matter what they always get the ball to the point guard to bring it up. Everyone has a specific role and they know their exact part in the System. Almost all of their offense was in the half court, fast breaking was rarely an option unless it was clearly what they should. Started a lot of plays with both big men in the high or low post and setting off-ball screens for the wings. They usually looked for a catch and shoot three or the ball handler would drive to the basket and have the option to score or dump it off to one of the athletic bigs rolling to the hoop. The post players were also very adept passers with Reggie Moore looking like a poor man’s Vlade Divac at times with his behind the back passes.
Lloyd Gardener who’s here doing color commentary and did the same down at AfroBasket last summer told me they ran the same defense and offense constantly and never made adjustments at the African Championships. They played Ivory Coast in the semi-finals of that tournament and hedged out hard on the guards on the pick and roll, leaving the rolling or popping ball screener wide open for a long to mid-range jump shot and the Ivory Coast big men couldn’t hit it. But against Egypt in the finals, who had a shooting big man, Angola consistently ran the same defense scheme over and over again and Egypt was able to convert the open shots. So while Angola is well skilled in what they do, if a team can counter their offensive and defensive system, the chances are they will have a tough time adjusting.